I have now had 3 months to reflect back on my time in Toronto. Moving there was a great decision. To say that I threw caution to the wind, quit my job, up and moved across the country by myself, is something I will brag about for a long time. It did take courage. It was brave. But it took me a long time to realize this.
When I came home, I was depressed. I felt defeated. I was disappointed that the experience didn’t become what I had wanted it to be. But I slowly built my life back up. I settled in back at home. I’ve spent more than my fair share of time with the people I missed most. I cut out negative people who weren’t supporting my journey. I really got back to a good place. Just the other day, while at work, an old client came in and as soon as he saw me he smiled and said, “you’re back!” I reminded him I had been back for a few months now to which he said, “no, your aura, your light, it’s back.” My heart melted. He was right. I do feel like my old self again. I feel inspired and optimistic. I feel ready for a new adventure.
Now I can look back on my time in Toronto fondly. I remember all of the things I loved. I let go of the things that made it difficult. Truthfully, I came back a different person. The amount of confidence and perseverance I have now is unbreakable. Every single part of that chapter was crucial to my journey and ultimately, to my growth as a person. One of the most crucial parts I just realized the other day: the long drive home.
I packed up my SUV, bought some cans of tuna, vitamin water, buns, and bananas and I hit the road. Despite the awesome beauty of Northern Ontario, I opted to drive through the United States for my drive home. The highways are wider, the speed limit is higher, the weather isn’t as atrocious (it was late December which means full-fledged winter season in Canada), and the gas was cheaper too!
I left Toronto at noon on Wednesday, December 18th. I had 2693 kms ahead of me. My first stop was after 2 hours at the Canadian/US border. I was put into a small room while they searched my vehicle. My mind panicked as I tried to think if there was anything incriminating in my boxes of belongings that bulged out of my back seat and trunk. A half an hour later I was back on the road. I drove through Flint and Detroit in Michigan. Soon I was in Illinois. Now, for anyone ever travelling through Illinois – FYI – they have toll booths. I know, right? You actually have to pay numerous times to drive through this state. Of course I didn’t have american currency on me and because Illinois is stuck somewhere in the 80’s, they didn’t take credit cards. Instead you get these ‘pay later’ forms. Now you have 7 days to pay your $1.80 toll.
I passed through Chicago around 7pm. It was beautiful. I wanted to stay there for the night but I had made my decision to drive to Rockford, Illinois and I was determined to get there. I knew the hotels would be pricy and the traffic trying to get out of Chicago would be insane. So I waved as I went through and promised myself to come back, maybe at a time where I wasn’t alone and crying, trying to get home by myself with my life in a 4×6 foot space.
I had never driven through the USA before. So this whole Interstate business blew my mind. That and there are no signs telling you that you’ve reached a city. You just enter it. It’s bizarre. Oh right, did I mention I didn’t have a map? Yeah, I rely on google maps like it’s my job. That was, until I reached the border and got the text from Telus reminding me to turn of my data to avoid outrageous roaming charges. So there I was, in the dark, alone, driving in the US for the first time, trying to find Rockford Illinois. By the time I reached my 5th tollbooth, I caved and asked the attendant where the hell Rockford was. This woman was adorable. She replied with the best accent I’ve ever heard, “mmm giiiirrrrrl, you gone and went the wrrrroooong way!” I cried, “noooo!!!!” to her, laughing back tears. I could tell she immediately felt sympathy for this homely looking girl from a place should couldn’t pronounce (Sass – Katch – Chew – Waan). She handed me a map of the state and explained to me that if I took the next exit and followed that highway, I would reach Rockford. I thanked her with the most gratitude I could muster up after realizing there’s a good chance I was lost in Illinois.
I found the exit and got onto this mystery highway. Big mistake. My gut sank. This was a single lane, unlit highway with snow drifts across it. Immediately visions of the creeps from the movie ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ flashed in my brain and I panicked. I called my friend, Jana (my saviour of that journey) balling and needing directions ASAP! I somehow had managed to get pretty much to Bismark before I back tracked and found myself having to go through each toll booth all over again. Then I saw my shining light! My exit and a sign to Rockford. Just one thing stood in between me and my hotel bed – a super nasty tollbooth attendant.
I drove up to the booth and flashed my stack of “I’ll pay ya later” papers stating I needed, “another one of these”. He did not laugh at me like the rest, he got mad. He questioned why I had so many and then stated I could only have 5 per day. I explained I was driving to Saskatchewan, moving home from Toronto. He asked why I had no American currency. I said I would only be in the States for 2 days and I was trying to get home to my family for Christmas. In my mind I thought that line would draw some sort of sympathy. It’s worked in so many movies. But it didn’t work for me. This dude was a jerk. I attempted to kill him with kindness, but it wasn’t working. He wasn’t going to let me through. So finally I blew up and said, “well what should I do then, pull over until midnight and start my tomorrow with a fresh toll booth ‘pay you later’ form?” He rolled his eyes, lifted the gate and said (in the jerkiest voice ever) “GO!” I asked if he was sure, the last thing I needed was a bunch of super troopers on my ass a mile later for running a toll booth. He yelled at me to go again, so I did. I sped off swearing to myself about this jerk. I hope he sharted that night and he had to stew in it for hours, what a meany.
I settled into my hotel bed. This was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel by myself before. It was weird. The sheets were itchy. I was cold and scared. I knew I wouldn’t sleep much that night, and I didn’t. The morning came all too soon and I threw on what I was wearing the day before, put my hair in a ponytail, brushed my teeth and hit the road. But this was a pinnacle moment in that journey. Staying in that hotel room, being alone, knowing it was the first time for it, was quite profound. I felt my confidence spring up. I imagined where else I could journey to alone. Now that I knew I could do it, the possibilities seemed endless.
That day started at 7AM. I drove out of Rockford and said good riddance to Illinois as I entered Minnesota. This was a beautiful state. The landscape was beautiful and full of forests. It made for a pretty backdrop on an otherwise cloudy day. I cranked my music and sang at the top of my lungs. I choked back bananas and cans of tuna. I drank that vitamin water all too fast. I cried. A lot. I mourned my time in Toronto. I was sad for the people I didn’t get to say good-bye to. I shuddered as I watched my temperature gauge lower and the snow levels increase as I moved further West. Something else happened as I moved West too, though. The people. They got whiter and more cowboy the more west I went. In Illinois I still felt that vibe I felt when I lived in Toronto. That I was part of an eclectic city that celebrated diversity. But as I moved west there were more Wranglers, cowboy hats, white skin, and trucks. Trucks are like unicorns in Toronto, I barely saw them. But Minnesota had it’s fair share of trucks. Side note: It also had amazing water parks. Seriously, check them out. I swear I passed probably 6 of them in a row and they looked so intense! I want to camp in Minnesota some time.
My next landmark was Minneapolis. Lots of my friends have driven there from Saskatchewan for shopping trips. For whatever reason, this put a false idea in my mind that I was closer to home than I actually was. I checked out my google map (the woman at the hotel was nice enough to print it off for me as I paid for my nights stay in Rockford. Bless her heart, she probably saved me from ending up somewhere in Texas) and I still had a long way to go. This was just the half-way point. At this time it was already 3pm. I had been driving for 8 hours and I had 14 left. I must have been delusional because I thought for sure I would make it home that night.
Can I just say that I love google maps? It has saved me so many times. But man, sometimes, it’s hard to understand. Maybe it’s not google maps, maybe it’s me, but I still ended up getting lost later that night. You see, google maps gives you the shortest route to your destination. So I unknowingly followed a bunch of exits that landed me on yet another single-lane, unlit highway. I knew I was getting close to home because the terrain had changed. I was surrounded by open, flat prairie. I gazed at the night sky. It was sparkling with stars. Ahh stars. I missed them. The one thing about the prairies that makes it so incredible is the sky. Day or night. It’s vast and beautiful. I keep swerving as I stared out my window. I started crying (I cried A LOT that drive), I felt that sense of comfort, that sense of home that I had longed for while I lived in Toronto. I felt relaxed, like this place knew me and I fit in. That’s when I lost all sense of direction and realized I missed my turn off. Again.
I stopped in a little corner store. I explained I was trying to get to Saskatchewan and for the first time, these people knew where I was talking about. They told me I hadn’t missed my turn off, in fact, I was a mere 20 feet from it. I thanked them again, probably looking like a mess, hopped back into my truck and kept driving. I made it to Jamestown, North Dakota at about 10PM. I stopped for gas and to pee. I stepped out of my truck and was literally slapped in the face by the cold. Seriously, we know cold in the mid-west. It took my breath away. I hadn’t realized how much I had climatized to the mild weather of Toronto until I felt that bitter windchill that you only truly understand until you’ve felt it. I ran inside to pay and had to cover my mouth. I was definitely in the prairies. The gas station attendant was a girl maybe a few years younger than me. She was adorning some sweet camo, flare pants and tight white t-shirt accompanied by a trucker hat, a fake tan, and way too much eyeliner. She was sweet and kind. But, seriously? I felt like I was in an episode of Punked. It was just too cliche for words.
I managed to stave off sleep until Minot. I called my Mom telling her where I was and that I would be arriving home around 4AM (It was 11:30PM and Minot is about 4 hours from Regina,SK). She flipped out. There was no way in hell I was going to be driving home that night. It’s amazing how mother’s can force you to do something just with the tone of their voice, without even being there, and you listen with an ever so slight feeling of fear.
I pulled into the Comfort Inn parking lot, stuffing my face with chicken mcnuggets, realizing why I never ate at McDonald’s anymore but needing something to cure my aching belly. I had run out of buns, tuna, and bananas…..sanity, morals, and dignity. I looked around and slowly realized I had been there before, in that exact spot. When I was a kid, we used to go on family trips with a bunch of people to Minot. The kids would spend hours in the swimming pool and the McDonald’s play place while the parents visited and shopped. I was now staying at the exact hotel I had created so many memories in as a child. I had a sense of nostalgia as I grabbed my room key and walked past the pool. I laid down in my bed and laughed at the memories that came flooding back; burning eyes from the chlorine, finding poop in the play place, and eating huge pancakes the size of my plate every morning.
I fell asleep that night reminiscing on my past, how I had come full circle, in a way, from childhood to adulthood. How my two experiences in that very hotel were so drastically different. I knew that the little girl I was during my first visit wouldn’t recognize the woman who was sleeping there that night. I had transformed. I had let go of my insecurities, I had conquered fears. I made my own memories, on my own, by myself. No matter how detailed my writing of this experience is, the full understanding and knowing will never be there. I like that. I like that I now have a memory of a really significant moment in my life that’s all mine.
Friday, December 20th was a bright a beautiful day when I finally crossed the border back into Canada. The guy at the border chuckled as I explained I was moving home from Toronto in the most exasperated tone possible. He welcomed me back and as soon as I saw that prairie lily (SK’s provincial flower – which I also have tattooed on my right foot to remind me of home) on the “SASKATCHEWAN, Naturally” sign I lost it. I cried. Again. The hardest and ugliest cry. I was home. I felt it. It was like the warmest hug with the biggest arms wrapped around me. I smiled like a fool at every car that past me as I slowed down to take it all in. I hit Estevan and muttered to myself, “oh Saskatchewan”. My friends rejoiced and sent me Puff Daddy youtube videos to welcome me home. I was home.
This may be my most favourite blog I have ever written. Reflecting back on that journey and revisiting all of those emotions felt good. I’ve got a smile on my face at this very moment. This drive changed me. It pushed me. It challenged me. It helped me grow. I highly recommend a long drive on your own. Explore it, and explore you. Though I know for sure that my life is going to take me to really great places full of highs a lows, this drive, this momentous part of my journey, gave me the confidence to be confident in myself. Knowing, no matter what, that I have a home to come home to and it’s only a drive away.